The saga of the Heinz call option insider trade, first profiled here, and the Goldman trail, also first observed here ("Does GS stand for Goldman Sachs one wonders"), just got even more fun as revelations that it was none other than a client of Goldman's Private Wealth group out of Zurich that hit the buy key on those thousands in call options one day ahead of the announcement. From Reuters: "A Goldman Sachs private wealth client is the holder of the Swiss account at the center of an investigation into insider trading in H.J. Heinz Co options, regulators said in a court filing late Wednesday." Alas, and as before, the question of who leaked the inside information to this Goldman client still remains unanswered.
When one thinks of the US banking system, the one thing few consider these days is the threat of a liquidity shortage. After all how can banks have any liquidity strain at a time when the Fed has dumped some $1.7 trillion in excess reserves into the banking system? Well, on one hand as we have shown previously, the bulk of the excess reserve cash is now solidly in the hands of foreign banks who have US-based operations. On the other, it is also safe to assume that with the biggest banks now nothing more than glorified hedge funds (courtesy of ZIRP crushing Net Interest Margin and thus the traditional bank carry trade), and with hedge funds now more net long, and thus levered, than ever according to at least one Goldman metric, banks have to match said levered bullishness to stay competitive with the hedge fund industry. Which is why the news that at noon the Fed reported that Primary Dealer borrowings from its SOMA portfolio, which amounted to $22.3 billion, just happened to be the highest such amount since 2011, may be taken by some as an indicator that suddenly the 21 Primary Dealers that face the Fed for the bulk of their liquidity needs are facing an all too real cash shortage.
Citi's risk-warning signals, based on implied volatility on currencies that are very sensitive to risk appetite, have backed up sharply in the last couple of weeks and especially over the last day or two. The back-up has been so sharp that they have unwound all the easing in risk aversion since September/October. To be clear these indications are still suggesting that risk aversion is very low by 2008 standards, but all of our indicators have backed up markedly, suggesting that despite the abundance of liquidity investors are getting nervous.
From remarks by the Dick Fisher of the Dallas Fed:
- The Fed has artificially sustained markets
Thank you for the admission, oh FOMC member. And to think just 4 years ago anyone accusing the Fed of using its "invisible hand" and doing everything in its power to solely focus on the stock market was labeled a "conspiracy theory" crackpot. One wonders what other "conspiracy theories" will be admitted by the Fed as fact in another four short years?
The cruelest law of all is the minimum wage. In a time when our economy is struggling and teenage unemployment is through the roof (especially minorities), raising the minimum wage is the worst thing that can be done. This price control hurts the most vulnerable in society and those most in need of jobs. Yet the political class knows they can depend upon the ignorance and stupidity of the voting public. By appearing to be compassionate, they gain favor and votes. This move is not compassionate, it is harmful and destructive.
After the spectacular moves of late 2008, currency market volatility slowly reverted to more normal ranges, with a few exceptions over the course of 2009-2011. However, as Saxo Bank notes, since the start of the year, firebrand rhetoric is forcing currencies lower. The yen has fallen a stunning 17% against the US dollar and over 20% versus the Euro in the three months since Japan’s newly elected prime minister Shinzo Abe took charge. This has reignited the global currency wars. But who are the winners and losers? Follow the three step process outlined in the infographic below and have your say at the #FXdebates. As you can see, currency debasement has given rise to a rally in equity markets (for now), but major economies, both advanced and emerging, have been slow to recover.
Presented with little comment except to note that US and European credit markets have been sending warning signals all year; whether they rally to meet stocks or stocks crack to credit's concerns is not for sure - though the truism that credit anticipates and equity confirms remains as prescient as ever. However, it appears the macro-economy is better reflected in credit and with the Fed suggesting its liquidity anxiety is rising, perhaps equities will recouple once again...
For a while there it was looking as if the market might actually make its high and move lower before Wall Street and corporate insiders were able to hand the bag over to the suckers in retail. It looks like that was just wishful thinking, as new stats show the retail sheep taking stock from the oligarchs at the highs as usual. I guess the more things change the more they stay the same.
Across the universe of hedge funds that Goldman Sachs covers, the net long exposure to the market reached a record-breaking 52% in Q4 2012 - the most bullish level on record. It would appear, as we noted here, that the 2-and-20 crowd of alpha generators have merely been corralled into beta-chasers as, just as they did in the run-up to the 2007/8 highs, their exposure is mirroring the broad market performance. It strikes us that a 'hedge' fund should, in general, be contrarily reducing exposure as the market rises but with turnover of all positions also at record lows it would appear the managers have set out their chips and are all holding on - as the reality of relative returns (in a fickle investing environment) trump absolute returns. Despite low turnover, hedge funds notably reduced holdings of underperforming long-time favorites Apple and gold (lowest holdings since the crisis began) while raising allocations to rallying Financials. Seems like deja vu to us?
Ten years after the infamous 'Supersize Me' movie highlighted the epidemic of obesity and fast-food in the US, it appears, from CDC data, that the message that greasy burgers and other artery-clogging food is not good (no matter how cheap). As NBCNews reports, the percentage of calories consumed from fast-food has dropped from 12.8% between 2003-2006 to 11.3% between 2007-2010. The reasons are not entirely clear though an aging population is certainly a factor as they comment, "Maybe you don't listen at 30, but you do at 60 when you are more vulnerable to clogged arteries of high blood pressure," as the 60-plus age group's consumption of fast-food dropped as low as 6% of calories (with the 20-39 age group consuming the most). Unfortunately, non-Hispanic black adults consumed a worrying 21% of their calories from fast-food. While this appears to be a positive thing, and indeed the aging of our population provides some backing for it continuing, we can't help but fear that the ongoing surge in food stamps and disability benefits suggests the fast-food 'breadlines' of today may be regrowing.
Presented without any comment (see original Titan letter here), and google translated to add Babel fishing insult to an already injurious, or is that hilarious, exchange between a hard core capitalist and a socialist... perfect ignorance, admiration of Obama, trade tariff threats, oh, and don't mention the war.
While yesterday's biggest S&P drop of the year to date, and today's risk off continuation, is merely a modest response to the completely baseless fear that the Fed will no longer create free beta for everyone, to most liquidity-addicts it is merely a chance to "BTFD." So for the benefit of those who just can't wait for the momentum to return (in a world where fundamentals are completely meaningless as a result of the Fed's soon to be $4 trillion balance sheet and only momo and hope-based strategies remain), we provide our quarterly update of the most hated stocks as represented by the percentage of short interest relative to float. Because as the recent Herbalife saga has shown, the only residual strategy from the Old Normal in a time when the only thing matters is what direction the Fed chairman sneezes, is to force epic short squeezes not based on fundamentals but purely on stock technicals and massive short overhangs.
We recently received the good news via an advert that we can buy healthcare insurance for as little as $3.16 a day. Wow, that's only $95 a month. Since my we are paying $1,136 a month for stripped-down, minimal coverage with one of the nation's non-profit care providers, imagine our delight at this revelation. Wow, this Affordable Care Act (ACA) a.k.a. Obamacare is already working! The advert doesn't provide any details on restrictions and exclusions, so we have taken the liberty of providing some typical fine print...
Several days ago we wrote about what we defined as the Fed's "D-Rate" - the interest rate at which the cash outflows from payments by the Fed on its Excess Reserves will surpass that cash inflows from its asset holdings, a very troubling day because as we further explained, from that point on the Fed would be "printing money just to print money." In other words, with every passing day, the Fed is getting ever closer to the point where the inflation it so very much wishes to unleash will force it to essentially request a technical bailout from Congress (and certainly will halt all future interest remittances to the Treasury), and the longer this takes, the lower the breakeven interest rate becomes, until one day it is so low the tiniest rise in rates will immediately put the Fed into the red. It now appears that Congress itself, the ultimate beneficiary of the Fed's free money policy as nearly half of all US spending is funded by the Fed's monetization of the deficit at ultra low rates, is finally catching on to what is the ultimate rock and hard place for Ben Bernanke. In a letter penned by the Chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, Jim Jordan, says that he is "troubled by the corresponding effect that the Federal Reserve's expanding portfolio could have on current and future economic growth" and has asked the Fed what its "future plans to unwind the [$3 trillion and rising at $885 billion per month] portfolio" are.
As we warned here, the compression in realized volatility to the levels we were experiencing early in the week was simply unprecedented for any length of time. Furthermore, the relative compression of equity volatility to credit volatility was a concern - sure enough - two days later, spot VIX has just seen the largest two-day percentage jump since November 2011; and equities are catching down to credit's less exuberant view of the world.